The debate between capitalism and socialism is at least partly a debate over morality. The left claims benevolent socialism is necessary to protect the masses from the immorality of capitalist greed. Much of America’s youth appears to be buying into this myth.
A recent Gallup poll found that young Americans were actually more positive about socialism (51 percent) than about capitalism (45 percent). The percentage of young Americans with a positive view of capitalism has declined 23 points since 2010, when 68 percent viewed capitalism positively. That’s not surprising, given that most of these young people have been educated in a system controlled by progressives and fed leftist ideology as entertainment.
Filmmaker Oliver Stone personified the progressive notion of capitalist greed in the 1987 movie “Wall Street,” in which his character, Gordon Gekko—the Left’s stereotype of a capitalist—utters the phrase “Greed is good.” But, outside Hollywood, greed is not good, and capitalism is not based on greed. To the contrary, capitalism encourages people to improve their lives by satisfying others’ needs and desires, by providing the products or services that other people want at a price they can pay.
There’s a reason for the business mantra “the customer is always right.” To be a successful capitalist, you have to shift your focus outward, to the consumer. When I was the CEO of CKR Restaurants, Inc., the owner of the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurant chains, we spent millions of dollars every year trying to determine exactly what consumers wanted. Under capitalism, knowing what your customers want and offering it to them at an affordable price is the key to success. In fact, it’s the key to survival.
Capitalism is a kind of economic democracy, where consumers vote with every dollar they spend, determining which businesses succeed and fail. Look at the thousands of products in your local grocery store, shopping mall, or on Amazon, all vying for your attention. These products represent entrepreneurs striving to meet your needs as the way to achieve their own success. That may not be purely altruistic conduct, since capitalism depends on the desire of people to better their own lives, but it channels that natural desire into focusing on the opinions and preferences of a broad class of consumers.
In a socialist economy, rather than meeting the needs of others, you improve your life by getting more for yourself from the limited supply of goods, services, or benefits the government either makes or allows others to make available. Whether you get those goods depends on how well you please the political elites. People who are willing and able to make themselves useful to the powerful get special privileges, and since socialist systems produce so little wealth, everyone who is neither useful nor well connected stands in the inevitable bread line or waits her turn for gasoline.
In Venezuela today, under socialism there is a shortage of almost every basic consumer product. But you can bet that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s inner circle of friends, and the army troops that keep them in power, can get whatever they want. That’s the “benevolence” of socialism.
To distract from socialism’s history of failure, its proponents point to Nordic countries, Denmark in particular, where they claim that a new form of Democratic socialism has succeeded. But Denmark is not a socialist state. Rather, Denmark is a free market economy with an expanded welfare system.
You can argue about the costs of such a system and the point at which it reduces individual initiative, thus doing more harm than good. The Danes have been debating exactly those issues for years. But only a capitalist free market economy can produce the wealth necessary to sustain such programs.
In a 2015 speech at Harvard University, Denmark’s prime minister stated: “I know that some people in the U.S. associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism, therefore I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy.” In 2016, a noted Danish economist told CNN that Denmark’s major political parties would oppose many of democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders’ regulatory policies “as being too leftist.”
Rather than a heavily regulated socialist economy, the Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal’s 2018 Index of Economic Freedom ranks Denmark the 12th most economically free nation in the world, well ahead of the United States at 18th. It’s no coincidence that the impoverished socialist nations Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea are listed as numbers 178, 179, and 180 out of the 180 nations the index ranks.
I have good news for young Americans today. Despite what you’ve been taught, the economic system in which you live is the best system ever devised for the poor and the marginalized. It gives them power, creates the opportunities that make them prosperous, and encourages everyone who wants to get ahead to satisfy the needs of others.
That system is currently driving a tremendous economic surge, lifting Americans from every class and race into a better life. It’s called capitalism.